There is of course Michael Phelps and his unprecedented 19 Olympic medals, and his coronation by the press as the “greatest athlete of all time”. We also have Usain Bolt who became the first man to win the 100 and 200 meter sprint's in back to back Olympics. Who can forget Gabby Douglas coming out of no where to become the first African American to win a gold medal in gymnastics. Let’s not forget about Andy Murray playing the match of his life and winning in straight sets to take the gold medal from the very man who had beat him at Wimbledon just a few short weeks earlier. There were indeed some phenomenal and very memorable athletic accomplishments, but perhaps it are those athletes that did not win a medal, but whose courage won our hearts, which we should remember the most.
Tahmina Kohistani, a 23 year old sprinter from Afghanistan, became the first female athlete from that country to participate in an Olympics. She led her fellow Afghan athletes into the Olympic Village but she did not let the attention or potential hype go to her head. Kohistani showed great humility when she said
"I don't think I will qualify for the finals, my time is not good enough,". "Being a Muslim female athlete is most important for me. I represent a country where every day there are suicide bomb blasts. It is important that a girl from such a country can be here.
Her attitude, her determination and her bravery is a perfect example of the Olympic spirit. She came to London to compete, knowing that she may only run in a single race, but she came anyway. She made the journey because she wants to show other young women and girls in her country that if women put their minds to it, if they don’t let the stumbling blocks keep them down, they can accomplish history.
South African runner Oscar Pistorius had both his legs amputated halfway between his knees and ankles due to a condition known as fibular hemimelia, when he was just 11 months old. In 2004, he competed in the Summer Paralympics in Athens, setting a world record time of 21.97 seconds. It was then that his desire and ambitions to compete in “able-bodied” events began to take shape. He failed to qualify for the South African Olympic team in 2008, but he did not let the set back discourage him. After making the Olympic team on his second try, he took the track on August 4, 2012, received a resounding ovation, and when the starting gun sounded, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete at an Olympic Games.
Irish gymnast Kieran Behan became only the second Irish gymnast in history to reach Olympic Games. That in and of itself is quite an accomplishment, but add to it the fact that he has been wheel chair bound twice in 23 short years on earth, he is a true inspiration.
A botched leg operation that caused nerve damage and a training accident that caused brain injury kept Behan from doing even the most mundane things, like sitting or eating. Behan did not let those events crush his dreams of being an Olympian however. Hard work and a determination rarely seen led Behan to over came both events and his dream of being an Olympic athlete was finally realized.
Rwandan cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti is unlikely to win an Olympic medal, but the fact that he is alive to even compete in the Olympics is no small miracle. In April 1994, Niyonshuti's and his family became victims of the brutal Rwandan genocide. When “Hutu Killers” came to his village, he and his parents were able to escape. Sadly, his six brothers were not as lucky. He and what was left of his family nearly starved to death trying to scavenge what scraps of food they could find in the Rwandan countryside. Despite witnessing such horrors at the young age of 7, Niyonshuti persevered, he worked hard and he not only qualified for the Olympic team, he qualified for the men’s mountain bike final and was voted as the flag bearer for his country.
These Olympians never reached the podium, and they will most likely never be household names. But, their spirit, their resolve and their perseverance embodies what the Olympics and the Olympic spirit should be about. The pride they must feel, the pride their families, friends and country have in them is most certainly worth more then any medal.